Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary, located in Washington, D.C., began in 1961 and today continues to train and ordain seminarians for service among the Maronite faithful throughout the United States.
In the decade of the 1950’s, various members of the Maronite clergy and laity began to work actively for the establishment of a Maronite seminary in the United States. In 1959, the Sacred Congregation for the Oriental Churches formed a committee of priests to collect funds for the proposed seminary. The site of the seminary was to be Washington, D.C. In addition to being the nation’s capital, Washington was chosen especially to take advantage of the facilities of Catholic University of America with its ability to grant pontifical degrees in theology and canon law. The University is also known for its department of Semitic and Oriental languages. Archbishop (later Cardinal) Patrick O’Boyle of Washington was asked to take responsibility for the seminary’s establishment and Chorbishop Mansour Stephan was appointed as national chairman of the building fund.
In June, 1960 Archbishop O’Boyle called the Maronite clergy of the United States to a meeting in Washington where a goal of $500,000 was set as a minimum to be raised from among the Maronite faithful of the United States. This meeting was attended by twenty-four Maronite priests. In July, 1961 Archbishop O’Boyle, with the approval of the Maronite clergy, purchased a house at Alaska Avenue, N.W., which was renovated and to which a chapel, bedrooms, and recreation room were added.
Our Lady of Lebanon Maronite Seminary opened its doors on September 24, 1961. Its first rector was Reverend Elias El-Hayek and the prefect of studies was Father Seely Beggiani. The first class consisted of five seminarians. During the first school year the seminary was visited by the Papal Secretary of State, Amleto Cardinal Cicognani, on December 3, 1961. The seminary held an open house for the Maronites living in the Washington area on St. Maron’s Feast Day, 1962, and this event marked the beginnings of a Maronite parish community in Washington.
His Beatitude, Patriarch Paul Cardinal Meouchi formally dedicated the seminary on August 26, 1962. Over two thousand Maronite clergy and laity, as well as nine Latin rite bishops, joined in the celebration at the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The nationally known television speaker, Bishop Fulton J. Sheen, preached the homily. Cardinal Meouchi was accompanied by the future Patriarch and Cardinal Antoine Khoraiche and the future Archbishop Khalil Abi-Nader.
In 1964, the building next door was purchased and used for seminary bedrooms and a library. On May 2nd of that year, Archbishop Francis Zayek (then Maronite Bishop of Sao Paolo, Brazil) ordained the future Bishop Robert Shaheen and first alumnus of the Maronite Seminary to the priesthood. Archbishop Zayek also presided over the creation of a national organization of Maronite laity, the National Association of Maronites. One of its main purposes was to provide support for the seminary.
On January 10, 1966, Archbishop Zayek became the first Maronite bishop of the United States, and took responsibility for the seminary. In September, 1967, Father (and later Chorbishop) Seely Beggiani was appointed Spiritual Director and Treasurer of the seminary and Administrator of the Washington parish which was in the process of formation. In May, 1968, Father Beggiani was named Rector, a post he currently holds.
Among those who assisted at the Seminary through the years have been: Chorbishop Dominic Ashkar, Msgr. Ronald Beshara, Chorbishop Camille Zaidan, the future Bishop Stephen Hector Doueihi, Rev. Naji Kiwan, and Msgr. Ignace Sadek.
In recent times, the Order of St. Sharbel, an association of the laity, was established to provide financial assistance for the seminary and clergy. It underwrites a significant portion of the expenses of the seminary, and also supports the retirement fund of the clergy.
On October 16-17, 1986, Our Lady of Lebanon Seminary celebrated its 25th anniversary. With Archbishop Zayek, a large number of Maronite clergy and laity attended the events, which also featured seminars on the future of the seminary and the Maronite Church.
Under the guidance of Archbishop Zayek, his successors, Bishop Stephen Hector Doueihi and Bishop Gregory Mansour, and Bishops John Chedid and Robert Shaheen, the seminary has experienced rapid growth and a steady influx of vocations and ordinations. During its forty-eight years of existence, sixty-eight men have been ordained to the priesthood. Two of the priest-alumni, Robert Shaheen and Gregory Mansour, have become bishops.
Thanks to a generous contribution by Mr. Anthony Abraham of Miami, Florida, a new wing was added to the Seminary in 2001. Patriarch Nasrallah Peter Cardinal Sfeir, dedicated the new structure on March 6, 2001.
The new wing features a library, computer area, seminar rooms, and housing for faculty and seminarians. It can also serve as a nucleus for a Maronite research center. In recent years, the main building of the seminary was renovated, and the old church hall was converted into a library.
The rector, alumni, and students of the Maronite Seminary have played a prominent role in the Eparchies in producing texts on Maronite liturgy, catechetics, theology, spirituality, and history. During the years, many Maronite and Latin Rite church officials and civil dignitaries have visited the seminary. These have included Patriarch Khoraiche in 1981 and Patriarch Nasrallah Sfeir in 1988, 2001, 2005, and 2008, a number of Maronite Bishops, several Prefects of the Sacred Congregation of the Oriental Churches and every Apostolic Delegate and Papal Pro-Nuncio to the United States. Visitors have also included former presidents of Lebanon, Charles Helou, Bashir Gemayel (before his election) and Amin Gemayel.